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previous day. There were dreadful moments during which
unbidden tears welled up in his eyes, and he bit his
lips until they bled to suppress an involuntary groan.
But he forced himself to perform these exercises, at first
once and later twice a day. After every spell, he fell
helplessly back on his pillow, wondering whether he
would be able to repeat them. But when the hour arrived
he set to work again. In the evening, he felt the muscles
of his thighs and calves and noted with satisfaction that
they were no longer the flabby flesh and fat that he had
felt under his hand at the beginning of the exercises, but
the firm muscle that he had possessed in the past.
His legs occupied all Meresyev's thoughts. Sometimes,
when lost in thought, he felt a pain in the feet and
shifted the position of his legs, and only then did he
remember that he had no feet. For a long time, due to
some nervous anomaly, the amputated feet still lived
with the body; suddenly they would begin to irritate,
ache in damp weather, and there would even be an
agonising pain in them. His mind was so taken up with
his feet that sometimes in his sleep he saw himself quick
in his movements. He dreamed that the "alert" was
sounded and that he ran to his plane, leapt on to the
wing, climbed into the cockpit and tried the pedals with
his feet while Yura removed the cover from the engine.
At another time, he and Olya would be running barefoot,
hand in hand in the flower-bedecked steppe, enjoying the
pleasant feel of the warm and moist ground. How good
that was! But how disappointing to wake up and find that
he had no feet!
After dreams like that, Alexei sometimes became
dejected. He began to think that he was tormenting his
body in vain, that he would never fly again, just as he
would never run barefoot in the steppe with that lovely
girl in Kamyshin who became dearer and more desirable
to him the longer time kept them apart.
His relations with Olya gave Alexei no joy. Almost
every week Klavdia Mikhailovna made him "dance", that
is, jerk his body in bed and clap his hands to entitle him
to receive a letter addressed in the familiar round, neat,
schoolgirl's hand. These letters became more and more
lengthy and endearing, as if the girl's young love that